If you are one of my students, you know that I often ask you to describe what you felt during a movement or series of exercises. To new students, this is confounding. Even as they get accustomed, my students stop and stare blankly off into the distance before attempting to find some words. Many riders come to a lesson to be told what to do and when to do it and how much to do it. And that certainly falls into my job description. However, just because you could follow directions, doesn’t mean that you grasped any concepts or have any idea how you’ll recreate it on your own.
As an instructor, I don’t believe that my job is complete (for the day, week, month, lifetime) until you can do the work on your own. And, the only way to internalize the information is to focus on the feel. Experiences teach, not my words. I am there to create opportunities and situations that cause you and your horse to feel something new and improved, but I won’t always be there. Whether you’re riding alone at home or headed into the show ring where I can’t remind you to add leg or sit up, there will come a time when you have to recreate the good feeling work on your own.
I am often far behind in my reading. Something about the combination of single mother, business owner, riding instructor, horse trainer, chef, nurse and housekeeper keeps me from that stack of horse magazines and books. So, I just read the October issue of USDF Connection. There is a great column named “Training Classic” which features a previously published article. In the October issue, Hilda Gurney is the author of the article titled, “Sequential Schooling of the Dressage Horse”. I am drawing this type of information into my experience of late and I love analyzing the finite descriptions that all different trainers use to bring along young horses.
This article has some great tidbits about the specific use of aids and progression of the horse, but my favorite part is that in every section she describes the careful consideration the rider must give to the horse and how he feels. She describes all different types of horses and then reiterates that ‘effective correction and reward differ not only from horse to horse, but can be different for each horse, according to mood, excitement level, location (home or away), weather, and level of training.’
This! This! This!
The best thing I can do for my riders is to help them read the horse. If you are always looking for a recipe or a formula to create the perfect ride, it does not exist. What does exist is our ability to read the horse and communicate information precisely and thoughtfully to them in any given situation. Horses are kinesthetic learners AND communicators. It is crucial to be able to denote the differences in your horse every day. We can certainly dial in many of the variables (feed, amount of work, turn-out, veterinary care… etc). But there will still be differences.
I always give homework at the end of lessons, to keep the pair working between their lessons. But the best thing you can search for as the rider is the feeling we created during the lesson. Yes, a shoulder-in might help you get there. Yes, transitions might help you find it. But it is up to you to decide how to use your tools to create the cohesive partnership that we all search for.
So, when you’re riding, in a lesson or alone, search for those harmonious feelings of ease in your work together. I always try to tell you the moment to memorize, but you know them. If you give yourself the task of feeling the moments of ease, you find them a lot more readily when you go searching.